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Singer-songwriter Mary Lambert uses poetry to channel anger and shame into power


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Photo: GettyImages/ Craig Barritt

Singer-songwriter Mary Lambert is angry about quite a few things these days—and with good reason. There’s the TBH too-short sentence Bill Crosby received for his sexual assault conviction, Brett Cavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation directly following a hearing to suss out his history of alleged sexual misconduct, and the eerily echoing situation of President Trump’s election on the heels of sexual-assault allegations against him.

Now Lambert, whose heart-melting voice you know from her collab with Ryan Lewis and Macklemore on “Same Love,” is channeling that rage percolating in so many women right now. Her just-released second poetry book, Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across takes on tough-to-talk-about topics—mental health, shame, incest, sexual harassment, rape, LGBT acceptance, body-love, and forgiveness—and imbues them with inspiring power.

“Speaking loudly and openly about my experiences is inherently political. I think I find most of the power and activism in the performing and sharing of it.” —Mary Lambert

“I don’t know if there’s a universal path for everyone to confront shame and anger,” Lambert tells me. But for her, poetry helps. “The writing process for me is really insular and personal. I don’t feel that the impetus for my writing is rooted in activism, but I do recognize that speaking loudly and openly about my experiences is inherently political. I think I find most of the power and activism in the performing and sharing of it,” she says.

Want a preview of how poetry can transform anger and shame into power? Check out a work below from the recent collection

“How I Learned to Love” by Mary Lambert

When I was fifteen, I hated everything except for Weezer
and maybe like two people. And cereal.
One time a boy grabbed me in the music room
and kissed my neck in front of everybody.
I did not want to be kissed, but I thought I was supposed
to want to be kissed. I did not know what to do.
And so I laughed.
I knew you were supposed to laugh after things like that
The world had taught me to dress up my trauma
in short skirts and secret bathroom crying,
to protect the fragility of boys at all costs

When I was five, my father molested me
you become a strange human that way
You cannot whip yourself awake as a child
I should have been born a bird

When I turned six,
I stopped talking.

When I was twenty-five and my name was on the radio,
I asked people to write poems and send them to me
Maybe because I was starved of honest humanity
Half of the poems were about slit wrists

I do not want to know any more
about this brand of humanity.
All I know of love is hunger.

When I met you,
I planted my heart into the heavy
earth. I was scared,
But you smiled back.
Thank God I was not born a bird.

Discover nine more inspiring poets whose words will light up your Instagram. And if you’re inspired to do some writing of your own, these nine guided journals will get you started.

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